The New York Islanders may have clinched a playoff spot on Saturday night, but they know the job is far from over. The Isles are down to their final five games of the season beginning tonight against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Arena.
It’s the first of two games back-to-back that the Islanders will have against basement-dwelling Buffalo. The Islanders have defeated Buffalo in all six previous meetings, including a 5-2 win in their last games.
The Islanders have also outscored Buffalo 24-9 this season.
The game comes as New York looks to close out the regular season on a high note and keep their hopes of home ice alive. All four playoff spots have all but been secured and the final five games for the Islanders are all about playoff positioning at this point.
The New York Islanders have a 19 percent chance of finishing the year in second and a three percent chance at first in the East Division, according to PlayoffStatus.com.
“Now it’s all about finishing as high as we possibly can,” Scott Mayfield said. “We’re just focused on the game tonight. Whatever happens, happens. It’s nice to clinch the playoff spot, but we know it’s not over.”
Right now the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals occupy the top spot in the East Division and one will likely end up being the Islanders first-round opponent once the postseason begins. The Islanders are just two points back of Washington for a second and four points back of Pittsburgh for the top spot.
Both teams are in action tonight, with Pittsburgh playing Philadelphia and Washington facing the New York Rangers.
“We set out to make the playoffs and I felt there were six really legitimate teams that could make the playoffs, and we wanted to be one of them,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. ” We can check that off that we got to that point, but we want to finish as high as we can. Hopefully, if we just take care of our business maybe some slips just a hair and we can get a home-ice advantage, which would be nice.”
Including tonight, four of the Islanders’ next five games are against non-playoff teams.
The New York Islanders could make one lineup change tonight when the puck drops in Buffalo. Trotz said he may take one player out of the lineup because he is dealing with “a little bit of a strain,” but the Islanders bench boss added that if that player does come out he would be back in the lineup the next game.
Trotz did not say who would start, but with the games being played back-to-back the expectation is Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin will split the starts.
Buffalo will give undrafted nine-year-pro Michael Houser the start tonight against the Islanders. Houser has spent most of this year on Buffalo’s taxi squad and hasn’t played in any professional game since March 7, 2020, when he put the pads on for the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones.
“It’s a little nerves right now, but I think after the puck drops, settle in, hopefully get a quick touch and then it is just another hockey game,” Houser said, according to John Vogl of The Athletic. “I’m going to have to tell myself I’ve played a million of these before and it’s just different players on the ice.”
New York Islanders Lineup (Projected)
Leo Komarov — Mathew Barzal — Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier — Brock Nelson — Josh Bailey
Kyle Palmieri — Jean-Gabriel Pageau — Oliver Wahlstrom
Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy — Scott Mayfield
Adam Pelech — Ryan Pulock
Andy Greene — Noah Dobson
Buffalo Sabres Lineup (Projected)
Jeff Skinner — Sam Reinhart — Victor Olofsson
Rasmus Asplund — Casey Mittelstadt — Tage Thompson
Anders Bjork — Dylan Cozens — Arttu Ruotsalainen
Riley Sheahan — Cody Eakin – Drake Caggiula
Mattias Samuelsson — Rasmus Ristolainen
Rasmus Dahlin — Henri Jokiharju
Jacob Bryson — William Borgen
Sam Reinhart has six goals in his last five games with Buffalo. He picked up his first hat trick of the year on April 29 against Boston. … Buffalo’s penalty kill is 24-for-27 in their last 15 games against the Islanders dating back to April 2, 2017. … Buffalo is 3-10-0 in the first game of back-to-back sets and 3-9-1 in the second game this season. … Semyon Varlamov was named the NHL’s third star of the week ending May 3. Varlamov stopped all 53 shots he faced in two shutouts of the New York Rangers. … Brock Nelson will appear in his 600th NHL game tonight when the Islander face Buffalo. He becomes the 16th skater to reach that feat as a member of the Islanders. … The Islanders have killed 30 of the last 31 penalties they’ve faced for a league-best 96.8 PK% in that span.
How to Watch
Tonight’s game airs locally on MSG+2 and can be streamed on MSGGo or NHL.tv. On the radio dial, the game can be heard on 970 AM WNYM, 88.7 FM WRHU and 103.9 FM LI News Radio.
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